Toner on copper

Puff the Magic Dragon

Puff the Magic Dragon

I just finished re-making Puff the Magic Dragon – not as a diptych this time – but a triptych in one frame. The experience of having the duo hung on opposite walls in an exhibition p’d me off so bad that I went back to Studio A and started over. After some thought, I made a new version that would make sure it couldn’t happen again. Well, not this side of having someone take to the work with a saw. Could happen…

It actually works out well because the Myths, Stories, Legends exhibition it’s headed for (opens this week) calls for up to 150 words to explain the thoughts behind the work. Puff is (in part) my response to:

Little Jackie Paper loved that rascal Puff,
And brought him strings and sealing wax and other fancy stuff.

Together they would travel on a boat with billowed sail,
Jackie kept a lookout perched on Puff’s gigantic tail.

A dragon lives forever but not so little boys,
Painted wings and giant rings make way for other toys.

Excerpts from “Puff, the Magic Dragon” (1959) a poem by Leonard Lipton

This new work, of the same name as the old one – oh, yes I can – is *giclée on canvas again but this time mounted on board rather than stretched. I made the frame too because I wanted to put the title on the work as is usual with printmaking. The style of the label, however, is more like that of works of old – copper set into the wood.

Toner on copper

Toner on copper

There were a couple of ways I could get the wording onto the copper – as printmakers do by etching with acid but chose instead to use ferric chloride as they do for making printed circuit boards. Why? Because I had the stuff laying around. (It’s a long story.)

The first step, however, was to get a mask or a resist onto the copper. When that part was done I liked it so much I left it be and didn’t bother etching it and that’s what you can see in the photo – toner on copper. The method used to transfer the resist, I’m thinking, might be of use to someone else out there in art land… because it too uses stuff you probably have lying around. (Disclaimer: I know this is good for ferric chloride, you can Google how, but don’t know if it works with acid)


Gloss inkjet photo paper Laser printer or photocopier An iron


  • Print the image onto the inkjet paper with the laser printer – yes you did read that right.
  • Put the image with the image side face down onto the copper carefully aligned and well stuck down with masking tape so it can’t shift.
  • Heat the iron on the hottest setting – no steam please! Take care at all times from here on because the copper will be HOT.
  • Put the paper / copper / masking tape sandwich with the backside (blank side) of the paper facing you onto a block of wood or other heat proof surface and iron the back very, very thoroughly. And then iron it some more. And then iron it some more. At some point after ironing it very thoroughly you can peel up an edge of the masking tape and take a peek to see if the image has transferred to suit your taste (I was looking for scratched and less than perfect.)
  • Peel off the masking tape and the paper. It will leave a layer of paper on the copper. Don’t pick at it!
  • Drop the copper into a dish of water and leave it for a bit (10 minutes? 20 minutes? depends on the paper) until the paper goes really soft. You can pull it out every now and again and give it a gentle rub. It’ll eventually come off easily.
  • Voilà! Or maybe not. If you don’t like it have another go – the toner will clean off easily with a plastic scratchy. (If you want to make minor repairs you can use a Dalo pen (about $6 from Dick Smith) to touch up the resist.) And if it’s all too hard you could just get a giclée printed onto aluminium which looks very nice and wouldn’t take all weekend experimenting…

Have fun,

PS I’m going to give Type Tamer my giclée supplier a plug. (They’re in Malaga. That’s Malaga in the northern suburbs of Perth, Western Australia, not the one in Spain…) I will however declare that I do have an interest in the company but also state that the work stands for itself.

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